Moneyball is one of my favorite movies. It shows the impact that using computer statistics to drive player development had on Major League baseball and the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s.
The movie features a host of memorable scenes, including one where Oakland outfielder David Justice asks new first baseman Scott Hatteberg what he feared most at the position.
Hatteberg had been a catcher all of his professional career, and to that point had never played even an inning at first base.
“A baseball hit in my general direction,” was Hatteberg’s honest reply to Justice’s question.
That’s exactly how I felt Sunday afternoon as I stood in right field at the Northeast High School baseball field.
I was there at the invitation of my friend, Russ Florence, who invited a group of fellow adults to “have a catch” with him. A lifelong baseball fan, Russ began his informal monthly “catch” several months ago.
It was sort of a Field of Dreams-come-to-real-life opportunity for those of us who once played the game or have followed it all of our lives.
The baseball dreamers who came out Sunday included several guys my age or older, a few younger and a couple of women who showed more agility than most of their male counterparts.
I dug my old baseball glove out of the closet and joined about a dozen others at the Northeast field.
Unfortunately, the experience revealed exactly how the passage of time has robbed me of athletic ability, real or imagined.
Once upon a time, I thought of myself as a pretty good baseball player. Now that was in Little League in College Station, Texas, followed by Pony League as a 13- and 14-year-old.
Here’s how it went five decades later on a warm November afternoon beneath a bright blue sky.
First, we warmed up by playing catch with a partner about 40 feet away. I put most of my throws into the ground in front of him or several feet to his left.
My shoulder ached after about 15 minutes. My glove hand screamed with pain from catching baseballs in the heart of the mitt.
Then came the real embarrassment. I stood in right field as Russ hit flies and grounders to players stationed at infield and outfield positions.
He hit one in my general direction.
My feet felt like they were in quicksand as I “ran” toward it. I could not bend over far enough to even make a stabbing attempt at a catch.
I hung my head in shame. No one seemed to notice.
Russ hit about three other balls in my direction. I managed to catch one on the bounce barehanded, but caught none before they hit the ground. I decided if a ball wasn’t hit within three feet of where I was standing, I had no chance.
But the day wasn’t a total loss. I had the opportunity to visit with some old — and new — friends. The weather was pleasant watching from the dugout, where I spent much of my time.
“It really scratches an itch for a lot of people,” Russ told me afterward. “None of us is as good as as we once were — or as good as we THINK we once were. I’m glad you were there.”
Thank you, Russ, for inviting this ‘ghost’ of a former player to experience your OKC version of the Field of Dreams.
Even if it brought home a sobering reality of aging.